When I first started running mindfulness-based courses as part of a secondary care mental health service in 2004 there was very little awareness of what this was outside the Buddhist communities. In fact, I recall receiving referrals for patients to attend "mindlessness" courses!
Today it seems that everyone is promoting their goods as being good for being mindful.
The truth is that anything can be done mindfully but it might not always be beneficial to do so.
On the other hand, there is much of our everyday lives which would benefit from more 'being in the moment" and less thinking about other things.
What does it mean 'being in the moment"?
It's really quite simple at a basic level. All it means is that you are aware of the input of your senses, of whatever it is you're experiencing BUT you are not judging how much you like it, analysing it, or thinking about it at all.
You might notice that as humans we tend to hold a running commentary on life in our heads. We pass judgments, form opinions about things, decide whether we like what we're experiencing or not... and so on.
When we're being mindful we don't think about how we feel about what we're experiencing. We simply accept it just as it is, however it is, without trying to change it in any way. We don't hold conversations in our heads.
We often talk about losing ourselves in some sort of pleasurable experience, such as when listening to music or when engrossed in reading something interesting. When we lose ourselves in this way we are being mindful. In other words, totally involved in what we're doing. It's much easier to be in the moment when we are doing something that's pleasant. The challenge comes when we attempt to simply be during less pleasurable circumstances.
When we're not enjoying something we tend to keep telling ourselves how much we hate it. We focus on our discomfort. This in turn creates more negative arousal and, with it, stressful feelings. Being mindful doesn't mean we have to enjoy such experiences. It simply means that we are there with them without talking to ourselves in our heads about how much we hate it.
Being mindful isn't necessarily either good or bad. It just is what it is.
When is it NOT beneficial to be mindful?
When we need to use our judgment.
- Maybe we need to make a decision about something so have to weigh up the pros and cons.
- If we have to evaluate something. Many jobs require use of the critical faculty.
Very often it isn't helpful to be mindful whenever we're doing what we're paid to do by an employer.
But there are many times in our personal lives when we don't need to have an opinion about things.
To be in the moment is to leave that critical faculty in its box and to just experience life as it comes.
What about meditation?
Meditation can be helpful in developing the acceptance approach, but it isn't essential to begin with. Far better to allow ourselves to just be mindful in odd moments day to day than to struggle to meditate if it doesn't appeal to us at first.
Often, after practising being in the moment in small everyday situations, a desire to meditate develops naturally. Mindfulness and meditation go hand in hand. The practice of meditating at some level helps to maintain the mindfulness habit in everyday life.
Meditation is a means of practising being aware but not attaching thoughts to whatever we're aware of. Listening to a pre-recorded meditation track usually helps in the beginning by keeping the mind from wandering.
To get an idea of what meditation is about I have made some very brief recordings which are self explanatory. It is possible to meditate on just about anything but the input of our own senses is often simplest to begin with. Try it for yourself by going to my free downloads page. Sroll down to the heading Mindfulness Downloads. There you have the option of meditating on your breath, on sound or on touch - or you could download all three!
Each one teaches a very simple meditation of only a couple of minutes or so which, once learnt, can be repeated just about anywhere at any time. You don't have to sit cross-legged on the floor to meditate!
Getting the wrong end of the stick about meditation
A Zen teacher used to invite some of his students to meditate at his house if they had nowhere suitable of their own. Now the Zen master had a cat which used to disturb the students during their meditations so the master began tying the cat to the bedpost whilst they were meditating.
One of the students had to travel far away for several years. Whilst he was away the master died but the students continued their practice of meditating at his house and of tying the cat to the bedpost.
When the travelling student returned after many years he was happy to observe that the students, along with many others, still visited their former master’s home so he too went along to meditate there as he had done years earlier. When he arrived, however, he discovered that although many people now came to the house, they came and just tied up the cat but they no longer meditated.
This section of the website:
In this part of the site I am focusing on everything related to just being...
On acceptance of what is.... (because our acceptance implies that we can't change it if we wanted to or we would. So acceptance is the alternative.)
On non-judgment of what's going on when we aren't being paid to evaluate.
To awareness of the sensations of our forgotten sensory inputs: what we can hear, taste, smell, feel through touch not emotion, or hear.